BY CHRISTOPHER BUTLER
The Tennessee Ethics Commission is now formally aware of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s personal interest in a company that will benefit from policies he enacted while serving as the state’s top elected official.
Bredesen has invested in, and holds minority shareholder status with, the Silicon Ranch Corporation.
According to his Disclosure of Interests Statement filed with the state’s Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, Bredesen described Silicon Ranch as a venture that will help finance construction of solar arrays.
He made the disclosure on Nov. 9, according to documents obtained by Tennessee Watchdog.
The disclosure, however, came five days after The Tennessean revealed Bredesen’s involvement in the company – along with that of the state’s Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matthew Kisber and former state Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr. The paper reported that Bredesen is chairman of the company, Kisber is its president and Farr is the vice chairman and secretary.
One can argue that Bredesen’s personal interest in Silicon Ranch may violate the state’s Guiding Principles of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials because of conflict of interest issues, or at least the appearance of them.
Bredesen has long touted the benefits of solar energy in his position as governor. Last year, for instance, he proposed what he called the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, which is using $62.5 million in federal stimulus money to fund two solar-related projects. The first project, the Tennessee Solar Institute, is at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory campuses in Knoxville and Oak Ridge. The second project, the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville, is a five-megawatt 20-acre power generation facility. Bredesen described the facility last year as one that will serve as a tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes.
Tennessee Watchdog obtained a copy of Silicon Ranch’s filing information from the Delaware Secretary of State’s Office (Farr established the company in that state in August, before he left his position as Revenue Commissioner. The company is also registered in Tennessee, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site). The address given for the corporation was a home on Forrest Avenue in Nashville. A Tennessee Watchdog reporter went to that address and met a woman who said she was Farr’s wife and that the home belonged to them.
According to The Tennessean, Silicon Ranch is subleasing office space from Pathway Lending, a company that previously established economic development interests with the state.
Such involvement on the governor’s part might serve as additional violations of the state’s Guiding Principles of Ethical Conduct for State Officials.
Article 3, Section 1, for instance states the following:
“Public officials should be independent and impartial, and should avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest when performing their duties.”
The Guidelines also state that “a public official should not accept another position, whether compensated or not, which will impair or is likely to impair the public official’s independence of judgement as to the public official’s duties or employment.”
Guidelines for avoiding the appearance of a conflict include failing to disclose financial interests or engaging in any business that would create such a conflict.